Matter of Public Importance: DFV prevention and response

Today in Parliament, Abigail stopped government business for an urgent Matter of Public Importance, discussing the persistent deficit in comprehensive, multilayered approaches to prevention, response, and recovery in the domestic and family violence space across both federal and state governments. If we are to address this epidemic, we must invest in holistic prevention measures.

Abigail said:

On 22 April of this year, 28-year-old Molly Ticehurst was found dead in her Forbes home. Her former partner has been charged with her murder—and I deliberately will not name him here. Molly's devastating murder gained the attention of the media and the public in part because of the fact that, at the time, her alleged murderer was on bail. He had already been charged for several violent offences against Molly, yet he had been granted bail. We ask, in shock, how can that be? How can that innocent woman be dead because a man who should have been contained, unable to hurt Molly any further, had been allowed to walk free?

Molly's murder seems to have been so preventable, and that hits us all hard. If only he had been refused bail, Molly might be alive today. If only the police prosecutor had more clearly opposed bail. If only the bail matter had been heard before a magistrate rather than a registrar, maybe her murder would have been avoided. If only there had been a presumption against bail in his case, maybe that would have saved her. If he had been required to wear an electronic monitoring device, would that have stopped the alleged murderer in his tracks? In the face of tragedy, of senseless loss, we scramble to look for what we could have done to prevent it, to assure ourselves that nothing so tragic can happen again so long as we take steps to fix what we did wrong before, if we could just go back in time and prevent her death—because Molly's death was preventable, and we let her down. But so too was the murder of so many other women and their children at the hands of current or former partners.

Across the country, with little significant variation, year after year, we are seeing at least one woman a week murdered as a result of gendered violence. Each of those victims has a name. Each has left friends and family members devastated with their loss. Each has a different chain of events, a different story of the failures in our systems that we can point to, that we can wish we had already fixed, as we try to go back in time and un‑happen their murders. It is not just Molly's murder that was preventable. All of those murders were preventable. And then we look at the hundreds of thousands of families destroyed by domestic and family violence, victim‑survivors living with debilitating emotional and physical scars, children growing up fearful and traumatised, men struggling under the weight of their own destruction, parents losing everything that they thought mattered to them—and so much of it preventable.

Prevention of domestic and family violence is so much more than just a quick fix to bail laws. It is deeper than public education campaigns and messages about respecting women. It is broader than men's behaviour change programs, than tweaks to apprehended domestic violence order [ADVO] rules, than new refuges and brokerage for fleeing women. Prevention is all of this, but so much more. To stop the incidence of domestic and family violence in our State, we have to stop treating prevention as though it is separate from response and recovery. Prevention is not just what goes before; it is what happens after, too. Jess Hill and Michael Salter published an extraordinary and timely white paper last month that builds on the knowledge and expertise of the domestic and family violence sector, that explains and reframes the multitude of evidence-based recommendations made by victim-survivors, frontline workers and academics over the decades. The paper, entitled Rethinking Primary Prevention, puts forward a compelling argument for why our prevention efforts so far have not had the success we needed them to.

As Jess Hill wrote in The Guardian, "we are simply not getting our approach to domestic and family violence prevention right." She is right. And, to be honest, I am not surprised, given how resistant both Federal and State governments of all stripes have been when it comes to taking on expert advice on this issue. One of the core arguments in the Hill and Salter white paper is that we cannot and should not be limited to whole-of-population strategies. Telling men who are not at risk of ever being violent towards a woman that they must not be violent towards women is a waste of precious resources. We need to be targeting our prevention measures where we know they are most needed, to reach those who are most at risk. We cannot, as tempting and as simple as it might be, rely on prevention strategies that are not expected to show results for decades. We need to prioritise innovative, results-based prevention strategies that will reduce violence over the short, medium and long term.

Let us look at this from a government's perspective. Cynically, perhaps, let us look at this from the perspective of people not wanting to spend very much money on something that they cannot stick a big "Brought to you by the New South Wales Government" sign on. Strategies that rely on others to do the hard work say, "This is a whole-of-society problem, don't you know—not something that governments can solve by themselves," which is code for, "If we convince you it's not something we're in complete control of, then you might stop asking us for money." If we talk endlessly about respect with low-cost advertising campaigns and pat ourselves on the back every two minutes for doing the smallest of long-overdue things while avoiding having to commit substantial funds and resources to the issue, there is less pressure on the budget to keep big business friends and donors happy.

I wish it was just hyperbole, but it is not. That is why we need to stop letting governments off the hook and stop accepting their words when they say that primary prevention is key, that we just need the so-called good men to tell the so‑called bad men that domestic abuse is not okay and after a while we will not need to be spending money on response and recovery. One of the ways we do that is by expanding our understanding of what prevention actually is. We cannot continue to prioritise changing attitudes as our primary approach to preventing domestic and family violence. Attitudes have changed over the past few decades, but it has been at a shockingly glacial pace, and the prevalence of domestic violence has persisted or even got worse.

The Hill and Salter paper suggests four main areas of prevention. Accountability and consequences for perpetrators and the systems that enable them is prevention. While we are failing to act on ADVO breaches, permitting our policing and court systems to be too frightening for victims to access and allowing perpetrators to use the family courts to further menace their victims, we are also failing to prevent further violence. Recovery is prevention. Child abuse and neglect are accelerants to adult victimisation and perpetration. Work done to prevent child abuse, to prevent violence against women and to heal from trauma and abuse is prevention of further domestic and family violence. Regulating damaging industries, including porn, gambling, alcohol and social media, is prevention. Those industries have an impact on the severity and impact of perpetration. Even if they are not the cause of domestic abuse, they are exacerbating factors. Curbing that impact is prevention. That is one of the areas where government needs to step up and do the hard work of taking on the vested interests and industries with which it is so entwined.

Structural improvements to gender equality is prevention. It is not enough to just talk about gender equality while governments fail to tackle the structural impediments to that gender equality. Jess Hill points out that the single parenting payment is one such example, but there are many other examples—from family law to child support and child protection to closing the gender pay gap. Those issues need to be taken seriously if, in addition to the great respectful relationships and consent education and other efforts to embed gender equality in attitudes from an early age, we are to finally achieve the gender equality that will help prevent so much violence and abuse.

I add to that list that frontline responses to domestic and family violence incidents is prevention. Everything from domestic violence refuges to the fantastic Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services workers and co-location programs where sector experts work alongside police and prosecutors helps to keep women safe and independent, preventing them from experiencing further harm. The domestic and family violence sector—victim-survivors, frontline workers and other experts—has been calling for this for decades.

Last week I reminded the House about the NSW Women's Alliance, which is a coalition of peak organisations and statewide specialist service providers with expertise in preventing and responding to sexual, domestic and family violence, chaired by Domestic Violence NSW. I also spoke about the "safe State" platform that the alliance presented to political parties ahead of the 2019 State election. When the 49 recommendations in the "safe State" platform were put forward, the sector was quite clear: We needed to do every one of them if we were to have a chance of turning the domestic and family violence crisis around and preventing further deaths. To date, only a few of those recommendations have been implemented.

The detailed and costed reforms called for in the "safe State" platform encompassed everything from creating cultural change to providing immediate and ongoing support for people experiencing violence and a safe home, to ensuring they can safely access justice, to enabling First Nations people to lead change in their communities, to support for frontline services and workers. The "safe State" platform and the sector recommendations that have followed it have pointed to the need for a targeted, bespoke approach for First Nations communities, for culturally and linguistically diverse communities, for people with a disability and for LGBTQIA+ people. Whole‑of‑government, whole-of-society reforms have been put forward by victim-survivors, frontline workers, academics and advocates consistently and expertly over the years. Most recently, Domestic Violence NSW set out its priorities for reform in a letter to the Government and all members of Parliament earlier this month. It states:

The NSW Government already has strategies, plans and recommendations from multiple consultations and inquiries outlining what needs to be done to ensure women, children and young people in NSW are safe from violence. Given that extensive research and expert recommendations already exist, what is now needed is the political will to prioritise and fund the implementation of these recommendations. We are asking that the NSW Government fully fund its own commitments and recommendations under the:

  • National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032, the First Action Plan (2023-2027), the First Action Plan Activities Addendum, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan 2023-2025.
  • Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control Report 1/57 - June 2021.
  • NSW Domestic and Family Violence Plan 2022-2027.
  • NSW Sexual Violence Plan 2022-2027.
  • Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Review of NSW Police Force responses to domestic and family violence incidents, June 2023.
  • NSW Strategy for the Prevention of Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence 2024-2027 (draft, not yet public).
  • NSW Domestic and Family Violence Workforce Strategy (draft, not yet public).
  • NSW Health Strategy for Preventing and Responding to Domestic and Family Violence 2021-2026.
  • NSW Women's Strategy 2023-2026.
  • Closing the Gap, Target 13: to reduce the incidence of domestic and family violence experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women and Girls by 50% by 2031 ...

Those are just a few of the reports and recommendations that have been handed down over the past few years that the Government has indicated it would support but that have not yet been implemented. Those are just the reports and recommendations handed down by government agencies and government-led committees. I add to that the Auditor-General's April 2022 report entitledPolice responses to domestic and family violence, which has also not had its recommendations implemented.

Additionally, I note that over more than a decade, the Domestic Violence Death Review Team has made 122 recommendations for change that target a wide range of actors and agencies within the complex domestic violence response system. Of those recommendations, 98 per cent were agreed to or agreed to in principle by the government of the day, yet only 40 per cent of them have been implemented. Notably, a disproportionate number of recommendations aimed at primary prevention or intervention strategies to address domestic violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are still awaiting substantive action despite the urgent need for reform, as reflected in the over-representation of Aboriginal victims of domestic violence homicide.

I could spend another hour listing each of the recommendations in that cumulative pile of reports and speak at length about each one. The sector has learnt to lurch from one set of demands to another as the Government's gaze, guided by the media coverage and discussion of the day, embraces one area of reform or another. The fact is we need to follow a similar track to Victoria and implement the recommendations handed down, fully funded, in recognition of the scale of the problem.

I thank the House for its continued attention to this crisis. As I said at the beginning of my contribution, those deaths are preventable. With the political will, we can begin to turn the tide. I take this opportunity to again thank the thousands of people across the State who work every day, against the odds, to prevent and respond to domestic and family violence. The sector in New South Wales is so expert and so generous with its time. I thank each and every one of those people for the work that they are doing to help people flee and recover from violence. It is so important, and they deserve so much better.

 

Read the full debate here and here.

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